Pointe Shoe Making
Freed classic pointe shoes are made by the ‘Turnshoe’ technique, which was the method used for all shoes at one time. This is that the shoe is made inside out and then turned the right way for wearing.
Several components are prepared in different departments, which are passed to a maker for assembly. An upper is made using three pieces of cotton backed satin which are sewn together, with cotton linings, at what wil1 become the side seam. The upper is now joined at the back and a piece of ribbon (known as the backstrap) is sewn on covering the back seam. This operation is called closing. Machinists make these uppers continuously and they are stored in sizes until the maker is ready for them.
A sole is cut from a sheet of leather using a specially shaped cutter and a mechanical press. This operation is called ‘Clicking’. In actual fact the three pieces of upper material are cut in the same way and the same technique is used to cut the insoles and dressing socks. These operations are carried out by ‘Clickers’ who are skilled operatives in that they get the maximum number of components from each piece of leather or material.
The sole is Channeled in that a groove is cut into it about ¼’’ in from the edge and angled towards the edge. The edge of the sole is also shaped during the same operation. The maker starts by pinning the sole onto the last. The upper is now place over it and the block formed by using 1ayers of paper and burlap, together with a specially formulated paste. At this point the block is pleated. It is now passed to and operative who stitches the upper to the sole using the previously cut groove where the stitches sit. This is now passed back to the same maker for the completion of the block formation.
Up to this point the shoe is inside out on the last. It is now removed from the last, turned the right way, fitted with an insole and put hack onto the same last. This is the operation, as mentioned, called ‘Turning’ giving rise to the term ‘Turnshoe’. The block is now shaped using a glass smooth faced hammer. During this operation the platform is made, which is the most important part of the shoe from the Ballerina’s point of view.
The shoes are now placed in an oven overnight to allow the block to harden; though full curing of the block takes about ten days. Use of the shoe before it is fully cured can be dangerous but, in practice, this never happens as the shoes have to go through more stages, plus delivery, before the dancer gets the shoe and curing continues throughout this period.
Once the shoe has been through the maker’s hands he stamps his mark on the sole. This mark is known as the ‘Maker Mark’ and has been turned around by the Ballerinas from its origina1 purpose. When Fredrick Freed started making shoes he could only blame himself for poor workmanship, as he was alone in their manufacture. Eventually as his workload proved too much he took on assistants and, in order to determine who made faulty shoes, he made them all stamp their shoes with a mark to which he referred when shoes were returned with a complaint. It became obvious to some Ballerinas that certain shoes suited them better than others and they eventually became aware of the significance of this mark on the shoes they preferred. They were then able to quote this mark and get their preferred shoes.
The maker’s two operations, one prior to stitching and the other after, are the only sections he is involved in; and it is his individuality that is introduced into the shoe during these operations. It is the individuality of each maker that Ballerinas have become accustomed to, and have opted for, in their search for the ideal shoe for their equally individualistic requirements. One would imagine that the variations which the makers are famous for were too small to be determinable, but this is not so and Ballerinas will often reject several pairs of shoes made by the same maker in the same batch. To explain this, if one compares these shoes with a person’s signature it is obvious that anyone signing their name several times will produce some small differences between each signature; but anyone who knows the person will recognise the signature. If someone else were to sign that person’s name anyone reading it would immediately recognise the person’s name but would know he or she had not signed it themselves. Such is the situation with the ballet shoes and the makers.
The shoes now go to the Binding Department where the uppers are cut down to either stock measurements or specific measurements for Ballerinas. After this, the top is bound and a drawstring inserted at the same time.
The shoe is straight lasted, which means that there is no left or right shoe. In fact all the shoes are made individually, not in pairs. They are paired later by visual inspection and comparison. In fact this is not strictly correct since all the materials will have been cut and assembled in multiples of two at the same time so that differences in fabric appearance, colour variations in dyeing etc., will be reduced to a minimum.
The last operation is the insertion of the dressing sock and any cleaning necessary. The shoes are now bagged and sent to the Warehouse ready for despatch.